BWW Reviews: Stages' STEEL MAGNOLIAS - Sublime Southern Strength & Heart

Living in the South, there is an undeniable general cultural familiarity with the iconic film adaptation of STEEL MAGNOLIAS. With the utterance of those two words, images of Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts spring to mind along with many of the movie's most quoted and loved lines. While others may be afraid to compete with the cultural memory, Stages Repertory Theatre, without trepidation and imitation, is housing a stellar, must see production of the beloved modern classic.

Quite possibly the best aspect of Stages' STEEL MAGNOLIAS is that each of the six women cast in the show completely avoids mimicking the performances given in the film. It would have been easy to phone-in a rehashing of the film; instead, under Kenn McLaughlin's artful direction, these well-known characters are each given a new and fresh life at Stages. The women that audiences will witness and get to know at Stages are just as endearing, if not more so, than their film counterparts. Furthermore, they come across as more believable portraits of the unwavering strength housed within Southern women than their film equivalents

As Truvy Jones, Shelley Calene-Black, is as effervescent a delectable Moscato D'Asti. Shelley Calene-Black pops off the instantly recognizable one-liners in a fresh way that elicits hearty peals of laughter from the audience. Moreover, Shelley Calene-Black has a knack for comedic timing and never misses a beat, allowing each of her hilarious moments to feel as if they are real and happening in the moment as opposed to feeling flat and over-rehearsed.

Rachael Louge simply shines as Annelle Dupuy Desoto. Like the women in the show, even though most of us already knew her plot, the audience could not wait for her to spill her story and heart out. Despite knowing what was coming, Rachael Louge's performance is so heart-felt and sincere that the revelation of Annelle's past still genuinely made the audience feel for her and root for her to overcome her "personal tragedy." From the opening moment to the last, Rachael Louge is consummately committed to Annelle, wheter it be her zany behavior or her highly anticipated and deftly delivered final quip at Ouiser's expense.

Holland Vavra Peters as Shelby Eatenton Lacherie, delivers a solid performance that perfectly illuminates Shelby's headstrong personality in spite of the diabetes that weakens her body-rendering her into emotionally affecting vulnerability. Instantly loveable, Holland Vavra Peters, has the perfect amount of sparkle in her portrayal of Shelby, leaving the audience pleasantly pink with delight.

M'Lynn Eatenton is fearlessly portrayed by Sally Edmundson, who consistently delivers a powerhouse performance throughout the whole show. Sally Edmundson's deeper voice adds a unique twist to the character that Sally Field made iconic; however, that lower register is amazingly effective in Sally Edmundson's almost whispered "I want to hit something" from quite possibly the show's most-memorable scene. Sally Edmundson's M'Lynn was more grounded than Sally Field's, ultimately making M'Lynn a believable person and not a caricature of Southern frustration, guilt, and anxiety.

Genevieve Allenbury is completely charming as Clairee Belcher. Genevieve Allenbury has a clever tenacity and wit that simply will not stop, causing some of the performances loudest laughs, especially during the last scene of the second act when Clairee implores M'Lynn to "take a whack a Ouiser!" Like the others, Geneiveve Allenbury's performance is astounding in her ability to remove the memories of Olympia Dukakis from the audience's mind, allowing us to get lost in her incredible treatment of the character.

Ouiser Boudreaux is the character that the audience despises and loves all at the same time, and Susan Koozin expertly delivers this wonderfully complex woman to us. Susan Koozin's Ouiser is supremely rough around The Edges and constantly on edge, allowing her to pristinely fall victim to jab after jab from the others while maintaining a wit all of her own. She is never vile or revolting, but Susan Koozin adeptly delivers barb after barb. Yet, by the end of the show, the audience absolutely loves Ouiser and is overjoyed for her as she embarks on a new chapter in her life. Susan Koozin adds more steel and more magnolia to her portrayal than Shirley MacLaine did for the film, and the payoff is wonderful.

Joseph Blanchard's scenic design is enchanting in its ability to perfectly capture the look and feel of a small town hair salon. There is a tangible simplicity to the design that is not sparse, making it just right. Likewise, Nara Lesser's costume designs exude 80s fashions, visually setting the play in the correct time period before the characters make mention of it in the dialogue. Kudos must be given to wig and hair design as well for capturing the spirit and soul of Southern big hair and other 80s styles. Lastly, Jodi Bobrovsky's lighting design is immaculate. I especially enjoyed how the lights would be slowly brought down to illuminate one area of the stage during some of the more emotionally distressing moments, for example when Shelby has her episode and only the lights above the chair she was in stayed fully illuminated as everything else is dimmed. That simplistic touch really draws the audience into those moments and was very powerful.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS is not just a play or a movie; it is truly a part of Southern life. Whether you just moved to the South or if you have lived here your whole life, there is no excuse for not being familiar with this modern classic or missing Stages Repertory Theatre's amazing production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS. This cast, under Kenn McLaughlin's phenomenal direction, flawlessly delivers this beautiful and touching piece about community and the subtle strength of Southern women. Bring a date, bring your best friend, or come by yourself because you will regret missing this production. Just be sure to hurry on down to Stages because there is not much time left in this run.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS runs at Stages Repertory Theatre's Yeager Theatre until August 19, 2012. For more information and tickets please visit or call (713) 527 – 0123.

Logo image is courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre. All Photos are by Bruce Bennet.

Genevieve Allenbury as Clairee Belcher

L to R: Sally Edmundson as M'Lynn Eatenton & Holland Vavra Peters as Shelby Eatenton Lacherie

L to R: Rachael Logue as Annelle Dupuy Desoto & Sally Edmundson as M'Lynn Eatenton



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